Last Updated on February 5, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
The steam, the roar of the gleaming engine and the marvellous chugging sound as the vintage train pulls away from the quaint station: a nostalgic trip down memory lane for some, and an exciting new experience for others… This is the South Devon Railway.
History of The South Devon (Heritage) Railway
Set within the scenic Dart Valley, the South Devon Railway passes through almost seven miles of glorious countryside between Buckfastleigh and Totnes (Riverside). Wending its way at a leisurely pace along the banks of the River Dart the heritage railway was reopened in 1969 and initially named the Dart Valley Light Railway by a public company of the same name.
Dart Valley Railway Plc also acquired the station at Ashburton in 1969. Unfortunately, in 1971 the track bed between Ashburton and Buckfastleigh became part of the route required for converting the A38 to a dual carriageway and so has been lost to all of posterity.
By 1989, the company, which still retains ownership of the Dartmouth Steam Railway, deemed the Buckfastleigh to Totnes stretch of track economically unviable. Fortunately, the railway line was saved from closure by a number of volunteers who set up a charitable trust known as The South Devon Railway Trust.
The aim of the charity remains to educate the public about their railway heritage particularly through operating and preserving these highly emotive locomotives. Wander along to the station during opening hours and you can expect to be greeted by friendly members of staff wearing authentic South Devon Railway uniforms.
This is still in operation today and was so named after the original owners – The South Devon Railway Company (SDR) that started operating between Totnes and Ashburton in 1872. However, by 1876 the company had become incorporated into the Great Western Railway (GWR) which remains the primary operator today throughout Devon and Cornwall.
Enjoying a Nostalgic Train Ride on the South Devon Railway
Situated within close proximity of Buckfast Abbey and with loads of free parking to boot, the multi-award winning railway recreates journeys that would have have taken place between Buckfastleigh and Totnes from the 1930s – 1960s.
All in all a truly sensory experience, whether the person is of a certain age or a young child eager to ride in Annie or Clarabel pulled along by Thomas the Tank Engine or one of his numerous friends. The smell of the steam engine fills your nostrils, the visual splendour of the early carriages and stations are evocative of an Agatha Christie setting.
In fact, the railway was featured in the BBC 2015 mini-series And Then There Were None. And, nothing can prepare you for the wonderful chugging sound of the steam engine or the intermittent whistles on leaving and arriving at platforms.
Aside from the unforgettable experience of travelling on a historic railway through stunning scenery, there are a plethora of nearby attractions in both Buckfastleigh and Totnes including Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies and the Rare Breeds Farm adjacent to the Totnes station.
At Buckfastleigh, there’s a heritage bus service operating on certain days that transports visitors to both the town and Buckfast Abbey. In Totnes, the station is within easy walking distance of the vibrant bustling town centre, which happens to be home to delights such as a Normal Castle and many an independent shop.
Last but not least – The Mid-way Point – Staverton Station and Staverton Bridge
Especially during the summer months keep your eyes peeled when stopping at the midway point in Staverton. The railway platform is beautifully maintained and resplendent with flowering borders. The station master’s office, if you disembark at this point, harks back to a bygone era.
The sleepy village has changed little since the railway was first built and is home to an ancient bridge across the River Dart that was constructed in 1413 and is considered to be one of the oldest in Devon. The Church raised the money for the construction of the bridge by issuing Indulgences.
This was a common form of raising money during the Medieval Period by the Church, Cerne Abbey being a classic example. It preyed on people’s belief that by paying for an Indulgence they would spend less time in Purgatory – a little like a Monopoly Get out of Jail card!
Nearby Attractions to the South Devon Railway
A vibrant bustling Ancient Stannary Town that is chock-full of antique shops, independents and places to eat and drink whatever the time of day or night; with numerous tea rooms, pubs and small restaurants.
Often overlooked for its larger and better known neighbour Buckfast Abbey, the ruined church is well worth a look around. Home to Richard Cabell’s Tomb which is said to have been the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.
A glorious family run nursery offering a wonderful array of unusual plants within the grounds of an Old Vicarage that houses a tearoom. Pop by for a coffee and cake and the chance to pick up both indoor (succulents and cacti) and outdoor plant varieties.
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